Burlington says no to del Pozo

July 22, 2015

Owen La Farge reports on the opposition to a new police chef in Burlington, Vermont, whose last job was to supervise racial profiling for the New York Police Department.

MORE THAN 130 activists turned out to a Burlington City Council public forum to protest the appointment of new police chief Brandon del Pozo, a former New York Police Department (NYPD) commanding officer and counter-terrorism expert who has written a dissertation defending racial profiling, among other things.

While del Pozo's supporters, including Democratic Party Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and the City Council, touted his university degrees and many years "policing in diverse communities," activists spoke out against the NYPD's mass surveillance of Muslim communities, its terror and racism against communities of color, and del Pozo's history in the NYPD's intelligence post in Amman, Jordan.

Del Pozo's critics also cited Weinberger's strong connection to real estate interests and his support for the basing of the F-35 bomber in Burlington and associated commercial real estate development. The NYPD's policing practices designed to promote gentrification would presumably be a model for Burlington under del Pozo.

Burlington's new police chief Brandon del Pozo with Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington's new police chief Brandon del Pozo with Mayor Miro Weinberger

Activists also spoke about the NYPD's "broken windows" and "stop-and-frisk" policing policies being key elements of what Michelle Alexander calls the "new Jim Crow," a system of racist policing and mass incarceration--cloaked in officially colorblind policies like the "war on drugs"--that disproportionately targets African Americans. Del Pozo has previously publicly praised the leadership of the NYPD, including former Commissioner Raymond Kelly and current Commissioner William Bratton, the chief architects of the NYPD's racist policing policies over the past decade.

Critics of del Pozo point out that he has previously written in defense of racial profiling. As del Pozo writes in the abstract, his paper "asserts that police policies which rely on general, found beliefs rather than hard, situational facts lie at the heart of proactive policing." As he continues, "[D]espite the persistent popular assertion that racial profiling is obviously wrong, it has important basic similarities to more widely accepted policies such as affirmative action and demands an even-handed scrutiny."

AT THE meeting, Abdullah Sall addressed the NYPD's infamous targeting of Muslim communities since 9/11 and questioned why such policies should be expanded to Burlington:

We love life like all of humanity but what we will not accept is being treated as animals. We want to be treated as citizens of this country, living with dignity, protected by the constitution and not as tolerated guests. We should not be looking to take expertise from the problematic culture of the NYPD. The NYPD is not a model for community cohesion, and social justice.

Community members repeatedly clapped and cheered the remarks from Sall and other speakers throughout the evening's public hearing, interrupting the normal decorum of City Council meetings.

Prior to the public forum, City Council members told the Burlington Free Press that they planned to support del Pozo's appointment--an indication of the antidemocratic nature of the process. The vote and forum were held just six days after the nomination was announced.

Anti-racist activists sometimes call Vermont "Mississippi with mountains," a reference to the systematic racism that pervades the state. Burlington police, for example, stop Black drivers at more than double the rate of whites, despite the fact that searches of Black drivers yield contraband less often than searches of whites. For several months, activists have organized Black Lives Matter demonstrations calling for justice for the victims of police brutality and racism, including Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray and the Charleston 9. Many in the city are appalled at the hiring of del Pozo to lead an already racist institution.

At the end of the meeting, Del Pozo's appointment was endorsed by Republican, Democratic and Progressive Party City Council members alike in an 11-0 vote. City officials dismissed even calls to delay the appointment in order for more public input and review of this highly controversial hiring--proving that they don't have the interests of the ordinary people of Burlington at heart.

Paul Fleckenstein contributed to this article.

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